Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reading and the Web: a Conundrum

I am not an avid Twitter user. In fact, I've always kind of scoffed at the idea. Who cares where I am, what I'm doing or what pithy little saying I can come up with in 140 characters or less? (I'm wordy, people. It takes me at least 200 characters to get to pith.)

But, in the hopes of using social media to grow this little blog o'mine, I have been making a bit more of an effort to join those who are a bit hipper than I. I know I'm super late on that revelation, but what else is new?

To be honest, Twitter is still an afterthought for me. I often forget to use it to mention new blog posts. (Sorry if you are one of my five Twitter followers. And thank you for being one of those five followers...) I often go weeks without checking my account. So, as you can see, this using social media for my blog isn't going quite as well as planned. Ah, well, baby steps.

But you know what? Even in my limited interaction with it, I have come to accept that Twitter is such a cool place. I'm not sure why I don't make it a normal practice to visit there. When I do stop by, I generally spend quite a while checking things out. I read some of the coolest articles because of the people, groups and bloggers I follow. It turns out that most of the Tweets aren't about where a person is or what he or she is doing. (Though I know there are plenty of Tweeters who do post only such nonsense.)

Today's perusal of the Twitterdom got me thinking about how social media has changed the way we read. I know I read tons of information that I wouldn't otherwise come across because of Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. The information superhighway has an inconceivably fast pace and it is really easy to miss some of the information exits if I've got my GPS set for one destination. Like if I use the internet only as God intended it--say, to find a chili recipe (post on that to come)-- I might have missed this interesting gem.

And yes, I do know that there is information of substance on this here interweb. I was just using that as an example. (But seriously, how scary would an interview with Anna Wintour be?)

Twitter, in its admittedly brilliant use of short bursts of information, like well written leads in a news story, can catch my attention and send me to an article, blog or website I would have otherwise missed. I find recipes to try and articles on vacation destinations. World events are clarified for me. The lives of the rich and famous exposed, etc. You get it.

As I said, I know I'm late to get on this Social Media bandwagon, but I know that many, many of my former students who are cool, hip, and in-the-know have been here for years. They have been digesting news and information this way for most of their adult lives, and while they might not be "readers" in the traditional sense, I wonder if they are reading more than I give them credit for.

Obviously the Internet has changed the way a great many people read. That's nothing new, nor is it shocking. I do wonder, though, if today's Twitter users are better read than they would otherwise be. Are they more diverse consumers than the previous generation? I find that even in the past five years my reading has changed considerably. I spend a great deal of time reading blogs instead of books. I read news as it happens. I read shared articles that I wouldn't otherwise have found. I watch Tweets come in to follow events that excite me.

I'm also picky. If my interest isn't piqued within the first paragraph or so, I know there is someone out there who can say it better. With books, I once felt that if started, it needed to be finished. I'd trudge through a hundred pages that didn't grab me in the hopes that something--dear God, anything--would happen to make the investment of time and brainpower worthwhile. But not anymore. (Generally speaking...) Now I'm a little more discerning. If the piece doesn't seem worthy/interesting/intelligent/informative/whatever, I move on.

Is this a mark of this new readership? Are they discerning and savvy? Are they exposed to more diverse information than we were? Are they then smarter? Is the new me smarter than the one of five years ago? Or, is the Twitter generation developing a form of literary ADD? Can they (we?) not stick to something for any length of time? Does everything have to be short and flashy? Is substance overlooked?

These are real questions. I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but I really am torn between the two ends of the spectrum. In many ways I am so very grateful that I have tools like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. (And yes, I know there are others, but seriously, who has time for more than three?!) Most days I feel smarter for having read the pieces I've read. I feel like I've taken in information that I otherwise wouldn't have. But there are those other days when I wonder if I really can't read more than six words of a story before deciding to move on. If maybe the overabundance of information is too much.

What do you guys think? Has reading and information gathering changed for better or worse? What are your impressions of Social Media like Twitter? Do you want to follow me @crqtncktls? Are today's readers doomed as sufferers of literary ADD, or are they better off than younger generations were?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Twisted Book Club

I've mentioned my book club before. These days, I look forward to our meetings like I never have before. Most of the ladies in the club are my (former) coworkers and now that I'm not with them every day, catching up, discussing great reads, drinking wine and eating good food is such a bright spot in my life.

We try to tie in a food theme with each book. Sometimes that's easier said than done. Because of crazy schedules over the past few months, we ended up lumping two books into one meeting. We read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Gone Girl. Yeah. Pretty much on the opposite end of the literary spectrum, right?

Because I was hosting, I was responsible for suggesting a food theme. Absolutely nothing came to mind.

That is, until a stroke of genius struck me.

Twisted food.

Because of the double helix that Henrietta's cells helped discover and the twisted plot of Gone Girl.

Genius, right? (Modesty be damned.)

We had pasta salad with twisty pasta, a ridiculously good twisted chicken and broccoli dish, Twizzlers, disgusting chocolate wine (because the concept seemed twisted--and was), twist-top wine, chocolate covered pretzils, and these Nutella meringues (because marbled is almost like being twisted--we take liberties...), among other treats.

I highly recommend the meringues. They are easy to make, and anything with Nutella is heavenly.

I might have made them (and eaten most of them) again. They're almost fat free. And the sugar certainly doesn't convert to fat and go right to my hips...

We all enjoyed both books very much and had an interesting chat about both. We do actually discuss the books. Sometimes the discussions get quite heated. Not this time, though. It was a pretty demure conversation. I think I was the only one who didn't love Henrietta Lacks. I think my lack of love goes back to her skipping out on a literary festival at one of my alma maters. I probably should get over that.

This month we are reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. It is absolutely stunning. I always forget how her prose reads exactly like poetry. So far, I highly recommend it.

What twisted dish would you have brought to our little party?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Best Chicken "Noodle" Soup Ever

Today was so not a soup day. Little Man and I went out for a nice walk to soak in the sun and enjoy the 70 degree day. He even had to don his shades.

He was totally into the walk.

Notice that he and Bruce (The Moose) have the same posture. The toy really is named Bruce (The Moose). The parenthetical is on his birth certificate and I'm contractually obligated to use his full name when I write about him. He's got an agent.

Anyway, I have been craving the chicken "noodle" soup I made about a month ago and decided the weather really doesn't matter that much.

The recipe is so good it NEEDS to be shared with you guys.

I used Tyler Florence's recipe as a base, but modified quite a bit.

In fact, I don't actually use noodles. I use gnocchi. So, my Chicken Noodle Soup is actually Chicken Gnocchi Soup. And it is delicious.

That's not my only change, though. Like I said, I use the Tyler Florence recipe for a base and then run with it.

Here's my version:

2 tablespoons coconut oil (my latest obsession--look for a Granola Mom post on it soon)
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup baby carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon ginger (I use the stuff in the tube. It is awesome)
2 quarts chicken stock*
2 cups shredded chicken (rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is perfect for this)**
1-16 oz. package of dried gnocchi
salt and pepper to taste

(Yes, that is my shadow. I'll get the photo part of this right some day. Soon, hopefully.)

Heat the coconut oil in your stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, celery, carrots, garlic, bay leaf, sage, rosemary, thyme and ginger. Cook for about six minutes until veggies are soft. Stir often.

Inhale deeply because this stuff smells incredible.

Add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Add the shredded chicken and gnocchi. Simmer for a bit to heat through and make the house smell like heaven.

Grill up a grilled cheese, ladle yourself a big bowl of soup and enjoy.

So there you have it. My neighbor made me some soup months ago and used the gnocchi. I stole that from her. She also added ginger and lemongrass. (Thank you Ayme!) I didn't have any lemongrass, but if you've got some handy, throw it it. It's pretty dang good.

If you're worried about coconut oil giving your soup a strange flavor, fear not. It tastes divine. Promise.

Newscasts say that flu is hitting hard all over the country. I firmly believe that chicken noodle soup is a preventative medicine. Chicken gnocchi soup, its distant cousin, is just as effective. Maybe more so. You know, because of the coconut oil. I'm convinced that I'll be fine this season because I ate three bowls of this soup today.

But I'll probably be getting my flu shot on Friday just in case.

*Tyler Florence has a recipe for homemade stock. I'm sure it is wonderful. I usually open two boxes of the low sodium stuff and dump that in the stockpot. It is considerably less time consuming. Sorry Tyler.

**I also made this right after Thanksgiving and used leftover turkey. It was pretty delicious as well.

Do you guys get flu shots, or do you just down soup like a champ and hope for the best?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Books for Parents

I told you yesterday that I have stuck to one resolution in my whole life. Here it is.

If you haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a nerd. It's true, and I don't mind one bit.

One of my nerdiest endeavours is my book log. In 1999 I decided that I was going to resolve to read two books a month (or 24 books a year--sometimes months get hectic) starting on January 1, 2000. Because I have a terrible memory, I started writing down which books I read. Eventually the notebook entries got transferred to a spreadsheet (soooooo nerdy!) and now I have a digital log of all of the books I've read over the past 12 years.

Stop judging me. This is a safe space.

There have been a few years where I didn't reach my goal of 24 books. Other years I've greatly surpassed it. The cool thing about the log is that I can look at it and tell what was going on in my life each year. Tons of Brit. Lit? Finishing up my master's degree with back-to back Victorian literature classes. Fluffy beach reads? The year I got separated from my ex husband and spent the summer engrossed in more desirable, fictional worlds while laying on the beach. Books pertaining to pregnancy? 2012, the best year yet.

In looking back over my log, I realized that I read a lot of really interesting/ informational/funny/silly books on pregnancy and parenting and I thought I'd share some of them with you just in case your reading material is going to quickly shift from, say, Victorian literature to pregnancy and parenting books. Taking a trip to the bookstore and browsing the pregnancy/parenting aisle can be overwhelming. There are thousands of other titles that I'm sure are fantastic. These, though, are the ones that I picked up and enjoyed or found useful.

The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy was my pregnancy Bible for all nine months. What to Expect, another popular title. was just a little too much for me. What I liked about this book over WTE was that instead of being scary with all of the possible things that can go wrong each month, there is a very handy chart at the start of each chapter that tells readers when/if a doctor should be consulted. It's very matter of fact and calm, like talking to your supportive doctor versus consulting Web MD. (Never do that while pregnant, BTW.)

This book is huge, but laid out in a way that is manageable. Each month is laid out as a chapter or section (then broken down to weeks), so I could focus on what was happening to my body, my mind and my baby. I'd read what kinds of changes to expect, what was normal, possible and concerning. I could go on about this book for pages, but I'll spare you. I'll end with this: if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or thinking about someday having a baby, this is the one book you need. If you touch nothing else from this list, do use this book as your basic all-in-one guide.

I got Beau My Boys Can Swim for Christmas last year. He kind of glanced at it, chuckled, and tossed it aside. A few days later, though he read it. It is only 112 pages and has pictures-- little cartoon-like drawings-- so it is totally easy and quick to read. It covers all of the stuff that guys should know about pregnancy (gas, hormonal surges, delivery, etc.) in a really funny, light way.

Some of the online reviews of this book suggest that author Ian Davis is insensitive and uninformed. When I purchased the book, I realized from the (perhaps a little offensive) title that it wasn't going to be like the Mayo Clinic book. Davis uses anecdotal events from his wife's one pregnancy to help other expectant dads out. It's like a new dad taking an expecting dad out for beers and a quick preggo-primer and this is something I think lots of first time dads would like. I know Beau has had quite a few conversations about pregnancy, parenthood, and childbirth with the guys at work to get the inside scoop.

I actually read the book before giving it to Beau. Some Amazon reviews suggest that anyone who enjoys the book is a moron who shouldn't reproduce. I happen to have enjoyed it and think I am the opposite of a moron. Instead of that harsh evaluation, I can say that anyone who enjoys this book is the kind of person who makes light of serious/sometimes scary/overwhelming situations and can have fun learning. I was stoked Beau read it. (But I was also stoked when he joined me at the maternity classes for some "real" information.)

From the Hips has a lot of overlap with Mayo Clinic. With that said, I'm glad I read both. This book uses lots of anecdotal information from "Anonymoms", which I generally found to be useful. The layout is a lot more fun, modern and playful. This book is kind of like sitting around with a variety of girlfriends who have all had babies, have had a glass of wine and are telling you the truth about their experiences. The tag line says this is an "open-minded" book and I really do think it is. For example, when it discusses breastfeeding it acknowledges that breastfeeding isn't for everyone, some people just can't get started for whatever reason, pumping and some work schedules just don't work, etc.

To be honest, I stopped reading the book when I got to the delivery portion. I wasn't really ready to read the anonymom accounts of that. It scared me a little and made me want to avoid the actual birth process. I think that reaction was because of where I was in my pregnancy when I started reading that section. When I looked over that section again after having Little Man, I'm not really sure what freaked me out so much.

But then, maybe that's because my birth experience was worse than the ones that had scared me in the book...

I think I was working at Barnes and Noble when this book was first published. I didn't read it then, but I hated it. I was so annoyed that a quasi-celebrity was trying to get back into the mainstream of pop culture by writing a book. I assumed she was vapid and unfunny.

I'm kind of a B-word, that way.

After the ladies on the pregnancy forum I was a part of raved about it, I thought maybe I could let that opinion slide and check it out. I'm glad I did. Jenny McCarthy is funny. I could relate to her. (She weighed her boobs--I totally wanted to do that!)

This book is irreverent and a little pointless, but it did offer chuckles and some relief because of her brutally honest reflections on what was happening to her body. I had quite a few "Thank God I'm not the only one" moments. I think that's important during pregnancy because at times you really do feel like you are the only one. (Despite thousands of years of pregnancy and childbirth..)

This book, like the two pregnancy "guides" above, should absolutely not be read from cover to cover in one sitting. When my sister-in-law lent it to me early in my pregnancy (at about 18 weeks) and I flipped through it, she advised me to tuck it aside and refer to it as I got to each stage addressed. So, when we got on the airplane a few hours later, I tried to read it from cover to cover. I think I made it three pages. She was right. Not only is it a lot, a first time mom has no way to really relate to any of the material. It was much more effective to read as I was going through each "stage" of nursing.

After Little Man was born I asked Beau to bring this book and the breast pump to the hospital and I began reading (and pumping...). It was very helpful. Each section has been equally helpful as I reach each milestone. In fact, I referred to the book just a few weeks ago when I was trying to figure out how to introduce solid food to Little Man and still breastfeed him.

I'll come back to it when it is time to wean him, too. Very handy and usefully organized.

I would say that most parents leave the hospital with their first baby not having a clue about what to do. Beau and I felt like that. We got home, put Little Man in his crib to nap and looked at each other with a dazed look on each of our faces. What the heck do we do with this human being? How do we not screw him up? Where is the instruction manual? This book was recommended to me by Cyndi. This is her Bible of childhood. I purchased it shortly after Little Man was born when Beau and I realized we had no idea what we were doing, what we should be looking for, or what to expect. It is kind of a five year extension of a pregnancy book in that it discusses changes to expect, milestones to reach, and various kid-things. Praise God.

It has become my baby Bible. Like the pregnancy books I discussed, a portion of this book is laid out in a super friendly way--month by month which I refer to as I reach each point in Little Man's development. It also deals with other topics which are so plentiful I'm just cutting and pasting a list from the Amazon book description to spare you guys the pain of my lengthy explanation:

• Basic care from infancy through age five
• Guidelines and milestones for physical, emotional, social, and cognitive growth
• A complete health encyclopedia covering injuries, illnesses, congenital diseases, and other disabilities
• Guidelines for prenatal and newborn care with sections on maternal nutrition, exercise, and screening tests during pregnancy
• An in-depth guide to breastfeeding, including its benefits, techniques, and challenges
• A complete guide for immunizations and updated information on vaccine safety
• A guide for choosing child care programs and car safety seats
• Ways to reduce your child’s exposure to environmental hazards, such as secondhand smoke
• Sections on grandparents, building resilience, media, and multiples
• New chapters on sleep and on allergies—including food allergies
• New content on prebiotics and probiotics, organic foods, and other healthy lifestyle topics
• And much more...
(Thanks Amazon!)

This thing is just shy of a thousand pages. It is basically the instruction manual you realized you needed when you came home with your first kid. I highly recommend it. as a very handy resource.

I was going to leave Bringing Up Bebe off my list, but when I really thought about it, I wanted you to know I enjoyed this book. Not all of it. But enough of it to find it very useful and informative. More than that, it was interesting. I really enjoyed looking at motherhood in a non-American context. I think part of my interest comes from being an educator. I see the good, the bad, and the ugly results of parenting. Given the ways kids have evolved in the thirteen years I've been in the classroom, perhaps the American methodology is not working. I really wanted to see how another culture approached parenting.
This book is not a Bible, nor does it intend to be. It is a book of observations on how the French style of parenting differs from that of the American style and that there might be some wisdom in the French style. Obviously, we are not in France, so to take this book as a how-to would be silly. Instead, I encourage new parents to look at this book as a sociological study on a different parenting style. Parts of the book made me want to be French--specifically the chapter on "doing their nights" and getting kids to eat real food. (Because a culture of sleeping babies who eat real, non-chicken finger meals appeals to me.) If you read this you might find yourself adopting parts of French parenting so that you, too, can have independent, sleeping, eating, polite, mindful children.
Or, maybe, you'll chuck the French style and adopt your own methods of creating independent, sleeping, eating, polite, mindful children. That is totally possible. No one, especially the author, is saying American babies have to be rude, dependent, cretins.
I probably have other titles I could recommend. This is a good enough list to get you started.
Do you have any suggestions? What worked for you?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Resolutions versus Goals

Do you make resolutions?

I've made exactly one that I have stuck to. In my entire life. Ever. I'm posting about that tomorrow.

So, since I've stuck to one resolution in thirty-four and a half years (ahem, I mean twenty-five), I'm resolving to not make a resolution. (Har, har, har. So original.)

Beau and I exchanged a few emails while he was hard at work on New Year's Day in which we laid out some goals and plans for the year. (Travel! Family! Home!)

I like that approach. See, resolutions leave room for failure. I resolve to lose weight, get in shape, eat better, blah, blah, blah. Then, at some point when that doesn't happen or the resolver slips, poof, failure. With that failure comes the sense of finality. "Welp, I was going to give up chocolate*, but I slipped up and ate the entire bag of dark chocolate Ghirardelli chocolate chips**. Oh, well. It was a nice idea. Maybe next year..."

So you think my goals and plans/resolution theory sounds like fancy semantics, huh? Perhaps that's true. Perhaps I'm saying tah-mato and the rest of the world is saying toh-mato. To me, though, a goal or a plan implies a work in progress and a resolution is a formal objective or endpoint that isn't concerned with the process.

Take this for example: "I resolve to be the best mom I can be" versus "my goal is to be the best mom I can be".

What happens when I screw up? At some point in the next year Little Man will fall or get his first bruise or I'll forget to pack his favorite blanket on a trip or I'll let him down in some way. And I'll have not been the best mom I could be. In some way he will experience pain or disappointment on my watch. And my resolution will have been for naught. Slap a big, fat, red F on that resolution, I'll have failed in that moment.

But my goal to be the best mom I can be leaves room for growth. I don't have to be perfect every day, I'm working toward and end goal that allows for a skinned knee, bruise, or forgotten blanket. Obviously, I don't want skinned knees or any other life calamities, but life happens. At the end of the year I'll be able to look back at the entirety of the year and I'll (hopefully) see that I've reached my goal.

As Beau and I look at the year ahead of us, we know that there will be speed bumps and set-backs, bruises and lost blankets. We are also looking forward to the journey ahead. And packing Kleenex.

Do you make resolutions? Goals? Do you see the difference or am I nutty?

* I do not support this. Ever.
**Who does that? Must be some of Amy's classic hyperbole.